My own sweet pepper crop was largely a failure this summer—voles, sunburn and other excuses. Backup plan: the farmers’ market. The heaps of fleshy red bells at the Napa market made me hungry for kopanisti, the Greek feta spread with sweet and hot peppers. I sort of knew how to make it, and there are plenty of recipes online, but I wanted input from my go-to Greek-food authority, Sotiris Kitrilakis. And that’s how I learned I didn’t know anything about kopanisti.
Kitrilakis was a Bay Area-based importer of artisan Greek foods until he returned to Greece several years ago. He introduced the fabulous Mt. Vikos feta to the U.S. and is a passionate advocate for old ways and authenticity. Unfortunately, it took him a couple of days to respond to my questions about kopanisti, and as always, I was in a hurry. So I winged it.
My kopanisti (pictured above) is tasty. It is sweet, tangy and bold, if not as fiery as custom calls for. But Kitrilakis would be chagrined that I wandered so far off track. Food processor???
Here are his insights about this popular meze:
Until perhaps the 1950s, kopanisti was not made with feta but with a sharp aged cheese called touloumotyri, produced typically from blended sheep’s and goat’s milk. To mellow it, cooks would pound the cheese in a mortar with extra virgin olive oil, then fire it up with hot peppers flakes. (“Ignited” is one translation for kopanisti.) If the cheese was really hard, some yogurt or buttermilk might be worked in. On top, some crumbled oregano.
“This was definitely winter meze to accompany strong spirits like raki or tsipouro,“ writes Kitrilaki. “It was imperative to beat the spread in a mortar; no whipping would be acceptable. A fluffy texture is just wrong.”
Fire-roasted red pepper is a modern addition, says Kitrilakis. Maybe so, but it’s genius, and moves this meze onto the late-summer table. My friend Jeanne Quan, who worked with Kitrilakis for years, says stuffing lamb burgers with kopanisti is “all the rage” and that she sometimes serves it with poached fish. I think it would make a great mayo-replacement for burgers or a luscious spread for a tomato sandwich.
Spicy Greek Feta Spread
Serve with cucumbers, radishes, Kalamata olives and warm flatbread or chunks of crusty whole-grain sourdough bread. If you can charcoal-grill the bell pepper, so much the better.
- 1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and seeded
- 1 to 2 cloves garlic
- ½ pound Greek feta, well drained
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Maraș or Aleppo red pepper, or hot red pepper flakes to taste
- 10 small fresh mint leaves or a large pinch of dried oregano
Put the bell pepper in a food processor with the garlic and blend until nearly smooth. Add the feta, olive oil, hot red pepper and mint or oregano and blend until smooth. Serve cool but not cold.
Makes about 1-1/2 cups
NEW! Cheese Class: New and Notable from Europe
Monday, October 9
Silverado Cooking School
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
An evening devoted to great cheeses that didn’t exist a decade ago. Meet the best new wheels from Spain, Italy, France, Switzerland and beyond.